Enterprise Search: What Did Shakespeare Allegedly Write?

November 15, 2021

The statement, according to my ratty copy of Shakespeare’s plays edited by one of the professors who tried to get me out of the university’s computer “room” in 1964, presents the Bard’s original, super authentic words this way:

The play is Hamlet. The queen, looking queenly, says to the fellow Thespian: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Ironic? You decide. I just wanted to regurgitate what the professor wanted. Irony played no part in getting and A and getting back to the IBM mainframe and the beloved punch card machine.

I thought about “protesting too much” after I read “Making a Business Case for Enterprise Search.”

I noted this statement:

In effect you have to develop a Fourth Dimension costing model to account for the full range of potential costs.

Okay, the 4th dimension. Experts (real and self anointed) have been yammering about enterprise search for decades.

Why does an organization snap at the marketing line deployed by vendors of search and retrieval technology? The answer is obvious, at least to me. Someone believes that finding information is needed for some organizational instrumentality. Examples include finding an email so it can be deleted before litigation begins. Another is to locate the PowerPoint which contains the price the now terminated sales professional presented to close a very big contract. How about pinpoint who in the organization had access to the chemical composition of a new anti viral? Another? A shipment went walkabout. Some person making minimum wage has to locate products to be able to send out another shipment.

The laughable part of “enterprise search” is that there is no single system, including the craziness pitched by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, start ups with AI centric systems, or small outfits which have been making minimal revenue headway for a very long time from a small city in Austria or a suburb of the delightful metropolis of Moscow.

The cost of failing to find information cannot be reduced to the made up data about how long a person spends hunting for information. I believe a mid tier consulting outfit and a librarian cooked up this info-confection. Nor is any accountant going to be able to back out the “cost” of search in a cloud database service provided by one of the regulators’ favorite monopolies. No system manager I know keeps track of what time and effort goes into making it possible for a 23 year old art history major locate the specific technical innovation in an autonomous drone. Information of this type requires features not included in Everything, X1, Solr, or the exciting Amazon knock off of Elastic’s follow on to Compass.

Enterprise information retrieval has been a thing for about 50 years. Where has the industry gone? Well, one search executive did a year in prison. Another is fighting extradition for financial fancy dancing. Dozens have just failed. Remember Groxis? And many others have gone to the search-doesn’t-work section of the dead software cemetery.

I find it interesting that people have to explain search in the midst of smart software, blockchain, and a shift to containerized development.

Oh, well. There’s the Sinequa calculator thing.

Stephen E Arnold, November 15, 2021

Elastic CEO on New Products and AWS Battle

November 10, 2021

Here is an interesting piece from InfoWorld about a company we have been following for years. Elastic is the primary developer behind the open source Elasticsearch and made its money vending managed services for the platform. Lately, though, the company has been expanding into new markets—application performance management (APM), observability, and security information event management (SIEM). The company’s CEO discusses this expansion as well as its struggle with Amazon over the use of Elasticsearch in, “Elastic’s Shay Banon: Why We Went Beyond our Search Roots—and Stood Up to ‘Bully’ AWS.”

First, reporter Scott Carey asks about the move into security. Banon admits Elastic was late to the SEIM game, but that timing gave the CEO a unique perspective. He makes this observation:

“When I got into security, I really didn’t understand why the market is so fragmented. I think a big part of it is top-down selling. It’s not like CISOs [Chief Information Security Officers] aren’t smart, but they’re not practitioners, so you can go in and more easily communicate to them that they need certain protection. I could see that there was tension between the security team and developers, operations, devops teams. Security didn’t trust them, and it was the same story as before with operators and developers. This is where I think our biggest opportunity is in the security market. To be one of the companies that brings the trends that caused dev and ops to come together and bring it to security.”

See the write-up for more of Banon’s observations on security, APM, and observability. As for the licensing battle with Amazon, that began in 2015 when AWS implemented its own managed Elasticsearch service without collaborating with Elastic. Carey notes both MongoDB and Cloudflare had similar issues with the mammoth cloud-services vendor. Elastic ultimately took a controversial step to deal with the problem. We learn:

“In a January blog post, Banon outlined how the company was changing its license for Elasticsearch from Apache 2.0 to a dual Elastic License and Server Side Public License (SSPL), a change ‘aimed at preventing companies from taking our Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them directly as a service without collaborating with us.’ AWS has since renamed its now-forked service as OpenSearch.”

Banon states he did not really want to change the license but felt he had to take a stand against AWS, which he compared to a schoolyard bully. The CEO has some sympathy for those who feel the decision was unfair to developers outside Elastic who had contributed to Elasticsearch. However, he notes, his company did develop 99% of the software. See the article for more of his reasoning, his perspective on Elasticsearch’s “very open and very simple” new license, and where he sees the company going in the future.

Cynthia Murrell November 10, 2021

Sinequa: Estimating Once and for All the Value of Search

November 8, 2021

Vendors of enterprise search systems have struggled for decades to explain the “value” of their systems and software. The task is a difficult one for several reasons:

  1. Search is a term which is difficult to define in a satisfactory way to each person, unit, department, job specialty, and executive in an organization. Why? Search is personal. Chemists don’t want what lawyers want;  marketers don’t want what invoice clerks want.
  2. Search is perceived as either built in (Microsoft and Oracle provide crude tools to find items) or free (bright computer grads know about Solr).
  3. Search over the last 50 years has fragmented into specific tools for specialist jobs because the one-size fits all has demonstrated it does not work, produces financial meltdown (Convera, Entopia, Delphis, Hakia, etc.), creates legal hassles (Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer), and crazy marketing hyperbole which does not deliver on time, on target, or within the budget (Dieselpoint, Endeca, Teratext, etc.)

I read “Sinequa Develops ROI Calculator for Determining the Benefits of Enterprise Search.” The write up asserts:

The new online tool has been designed to assess a company’s productivity and predict the potential productivity gains achievable with the company’s recently released Insight Apps deployed with Sinequa’s Intelligent Enterprise Search platform.

Might be worth a look, but I have learned that it is better to have a specific problem regarding information retrieval and then spell out what’s required. Then one can go looking for a system which delivers. Being sued? E-discovery. Hunting for information on your local machine? Everything. Information related to a law enforcement case? Datawalk.

Stephen E Arnold, November 8, 2021

Enterprise Search: Will It Prove Sweet for MeiliSearch?

October 20, 2021

Developers looking for a search solution may want to check out MeiliSearch. The customizable search engine recently released a new version that boasts a refined indexer, customizable ranking rules, and a sort function that works as users type their query. Their website promises:

“For developers: Scalable, maintainable, customizable. MeiliSearch provides an extensive toolset for customization. Unlike with other search engines, these customization options are just that: optional. It works out-of-the-box with a preset that easily answers the needs of most applications. Communication is done with a RESTful API because most developers are already familiar with its norms.

And we noted:

“For users: Blazing fast, relevant, typo tolerant. The search experience feels simple and intuitive. It’s all too common for search bars to make users feel like they have to learn a new language just to get the best results – or worse, that they have to jump back and forth between their search and Google just to get the right spelling or product UID.MeiliSearch makes searching simple and responsive, so the user can stay focused on the results.”

The company’s blog post, “What’s New in v0.22,” emphasizes the new sort-as-you-type feature. Writer Gui Machiavelli tells us one could previously achieve a similar result with custom ranking rules applied during index configuration, but this feature makes it easier. MeiliSearch is an open source project. The company was founded in 2018 and is based in Paris, France.

Cynthia Murrell October 20, 2021

A Business Case for Search in the Time of Covid and the SolarWinds Misstep

February 8, 2021

Why does one working in an organization have to make a case for enterprise search? Oh, right, I forgot. Enterprise search has a rich history: Fast Search & Transfer with jail time for the founder, Autonomy with a sentencing date looming for the founder, Entopia with financial pain for its investors, and, well, the list of issues with enterprise search can be extended with references to IBM OmniSphere or STAIRS III, Delphes, Siderean, Arikus, Attensity, Brainware, Eegi, Relegence, Hakia, and the memorable Zaizi, among others.

Making the Business Case for Enterprise Search” is sponsored. That means it is an advertisement, marketing collateral, and hoo hah. But what is its message. I noted this passage:

Knowledge-centric organizations know that tools such as intelligent search are critical for cutting through the noise and making relevant information discoverable. However, many executives don’t prioritize these types of tools.

Yep, and there is a reason. Consider that Elasticsearch is open source. Amazon offers search and is educating the enthusiastic for free. Put these successes against the backdrop of Google’s high profile failure: The GSA or Google Search Appliance, a fine product according to some Google engineers.

Regardless of today, large organizations typically have multiple information retrieval systems. The idea of federating the information is a really good one until the bean counters realize that the staff, professional for fee services, and the time required to figure out access controls, file formats, and how to cope with versions, rich media, trade secrets in engineering drawings and chemical formulas, and index latency cost more money than anyone revealed in a marketing pitch.

The write up notes:

In a recent survey, nearly half of all respondents said it was challenging finding the right information when they needed it.

One question: What’s right? The problem with enterprise search is that it is a fake discipline trying to gain traction in a world of business intelligence, analytics, and real time data capture, analysis, and outputs.

I laughed at the reminder “Don’t neglect security.” This is the era of the SolarWinds’ misstep. Security is underfunded in most organizations. Do responsible Boards of Directors and senior executives need to be reminded that their security systems is now Job Number One.

Enterprise search? Yeah, a hot enterprise solution. Just a solution which has become a utility and a free one via open source software at that.

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2021

The AWS Bulldozer and Elasticsearch: Can the Rubber Trees Grow Back?

January 22, 2021

In 1955 or 1956, I lived in Campinas, Brazil. My father worked from RG LeTourneau. He had the delightful job of setting up a factory to produce what were then called sheep foot rollers. Most people are not aware of the function of a sheep’s foot roller. Let me explain.

Hoot a D9 or other comparable bulldozer to two or more sheep foot rollers. Drive the bulldozer, scraper, or other heavy duty machine through a grassy field, a jungle or grassland. Crush and smash the trees, plants, and animals. What’s in the wake of the snorting and roaring yellow beast is a surface almost ready for paving. That’s right. The sheep foot rollers made the Trans-Amazon highway a reality.

Holmes Sheepfoot Rollers & Parts

What did the fleets of earth moving machinery do to the Hevea brasiliensis, a species of rubberwood. Well, in the case of highway deforestation, the elastic plants did not fare particularly well.

image

What does this slice of my life have to do with search, retrieval, log file analysis, information access, and other content related activities?

Stepping Up for a Truly Open Source Elasticsearch” reminded me of the impact of the bulldozers and the sheep foot roller combos. The write up explains:

We launched Open Distro for Elasticsearch in 2019 to provide customers and developers with a fully featured Elasticsearch distribution that provides all of the freedoms of ALv2-licensed software. Open Distro for Elasticsearch is a 100% open source distribution that delivers functionality practically every Elasticsearch user or developer needs, including support for network encryption and access controls. In building Open Distro, we followed the recommended open source development practice of “upstream first.”

Who is the “we” driving what I think of as a digital bulldozer? Why none other than Amazon.

I wrote about Elastic search’s difficult decision to try to stave off the building of an information superhighway directly over the Elastic NV buildings in Amsterdam. You can find that essay in “Enterprise Search: Flexible and Stretchy. Er, No.”

I think my observation that it was too late for Elastic NV. Perhaps the company can find a way to avoid the Bezos bulldozer. The sentiments about the virtues of open source software echo through the Amazon blog post and the Elastic NV explanation of its decision to be a different flavor of open source goodness.

Put that handwaving aside.

The function of the bulldozer and the sheep foot roller is to build a new trail. That trail leads to Amazon AWS revenues, service offerings, and integrated functionality.

Vrrooom. Too bad about those hyacinth macaws. My father and Mr. LeTourneau were not environmentalists. Neither was particularly elastic either. Both loved the results of big yellow machines dragging sheep foot rollers across the virgin landscape.

There’s a lesson here. The Trans-Amazon highway is visible from the international space station. The rubber trees and other trivialities are not.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2021

Enterprise Search: Flexible and Stretchy. Er, No.

January 21, 2021

Enterprise search, the utility service, thrills users and information technology professionals alike. There are quite a few search and retrieval vendors chasing revenue. Frankly I have given up trying to keep track of outfits like Luigi’s Box, Yext (yes, enterprise search!), and quite a few repackagers of Lucene; e.g., IBM, Attivio, Voyager Search, and more. There are some proprietary outfits as well.

Then there is the Compass Search sibling Elastic and its Elasticsearch. Open source search makes a great deal of sense to:

  • Companies wanting a no cost or low cost way to provide search and retrieval-type functionality to an application
  • Penny pinchers who want “the community” to fix bugs so that cash is freed up to lease fancy cars, receive bonuses, and focus on more important software features which can be offered for a fee and a license handcuff
  • Competitors who want to provide a familiar environment to those with cash to spend and wave the magic wand of open source in front of young believers who think proprietary software is a crime against humanity.

The history of Elasticsearch and Amazon reaches back to the era when Lucid Works (né Lucid Imagination) lost some staff to Amazon’s Burlingame, California, office. That was the bell which sounded when the Bezos bulldozer decided A9 was not enough. Sure, A9 works but the folks from the Lucene/Solr outfit would map the route from A9 to a more open, folksy world of open source search.

The open source version of Lucene was the beating heart of Elastic, the now public company.

Then Amazon does what Amazon does: The company shifted the bulldozer into gear and went for open source search developers who could seamlessly (sort of) move into the newly blazed path to AWS. Once inside, the fruits of the thousand plus services, features, and functions were just a click away. Policeware vendors, start ups, and some big outfits followed the Bezos bulldozer. The updated IBM slogan reads, “Nobody gets fired for buying AWS.”

Elastic was upset.

Amazon: NOT OK – Why We Had to Change Elastic Licensing” picks up this story and explains where Elastic fits into the world crafted by the Bezos bulldozer.

The write up explains:

Our license change is aimed at preventing companies from taking our Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them directly as a service without collaborating with us.

Elastic’s essay notes:

We think that Amazon’s behavior is inconsistent with the norms and values that are especially important in the open source ecosystem. Our hope is to take our presence in the market and use it to stand up to this now so others don’t face these same issues in the future.

The essay concludes:

I believe in the core values of the Open Source Community: transparency, collaboration, openness. Building great products to the benefit of users across the world. Amazing things have been built and will continue to be built using Elasticsearch and Kibana. And to be clear, this change most likely has zero effect on you, our users. And no effect on our customers that engage with us either in cloud or on premises.

Several observations:

  1. Commercial behemoths like Amazon use open source the way my neighbor burns firewood, old carpets, and newspapers. The goal is to optimize available cash.
  2. Amazon’s move into Elastic’s territory began more than five years ago. Amazon does kill off loser products like health and food delivery but it keeps others in tall cotton when it pays off.
  3. Those completing [a] Amazon certification, [b] partner indoctrination, or [c] inputs from free or low cost Amazon training arrive ready to do the search thing Amazon’s way.

Net net: Beyond Search understands Elastic’s anguish and actions. Perhaps the license shift and the assumptions about open source are unlikely to stand up to the Bezos bulldozer? Open source Elasticsearch is a bargain. It may be tough to compete with free plus discounts for AWS goodies and other Amazon benefits. Legal or illegal, fair or unfair, open source or closed source — the bulldozer grinds forward.

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2021

Enterprise Search: Blasting Away at Feet, Walls, and Partners

January 18, 2021

I read a very good write up called “Is Elasticsearch No Longer Open Source Software?” The write up contains a helpful summary of the history of Elastic and its Lucene-based search solution. Plus the inhospitable territory of open source licensing gets a review as well. To boil down the write up does not do it justice, so navigate to the source document and read it first hand.

I noted a couple of passages which I found suggestive.

First, here’s a comment which strikes me as relevant to the Bezos bulldozer’s approach to low or no cost, high utility software:

if you want to provide Elasticsearch on a SaaS basis, you have to release any code that you use to do this: in Amazon’s case this could mean all the management layers that go into providing Elasticsearch on Amazon Web Services (AWS), so I doubt this is going to happen.

My view is that Elastic and its management team want to put some sand in the bulldozer’s diesel fuel. The question is, “WWAD” or “What will Amazon do?” Some of the options available to Amazon are likely to be interesting. The specific series of actions Amazon pursues will be particularly thrilling.

Second, another passage I circled was:

Smaller SaaS providers without Amazon’s resources will have to decide whether to do a deal with Elastic or Amazon to continue to offer a hosted Elasticsearch.

Based on my limited understanding of the legal hoo-hah with open source legal nuances, I think a customer will have to make a choice. Ride the bulldozer or go with the Son of Compass search. (Yep, that would be Elastic.)

For me, my meanderings through open source and enterprise search sparked these thoughts:

  1. In a competitive arena, open source will become closed. Too much money is at stake for the “leaders”
  2. Open source provides a low cost, low friction way to add functionality or enable an open source “play.” Once up and running, the company using open source wants to make sure the costs of R&D, bug fixes, and other enhancements are “free”; that is, not an expense to the company using open source software.
  3. Forks or code released to open source are competitive moves motivated by financial and marketing considerations.

Open source, open code, open anything: Sounds too good to be true. For some situations, enterprise search’s DNA will surface and the costs can be tricky enough to make an accountant experience heart burn. And the lawyers? Those folks send invoices. The users? Search is a utility. The companies appropriating and making their solution proprietary? Mostly happy campers. And the open source “developers”? Yikes.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

Rah Rah Rah for Enterprise Search

January 8, 2021

The founder and CEO of enterprise search firm Mindbreeze, Daniel Fallmann, has penned quite an advertisement for enterprise search in “Employ Your AI as a Smart Partner: Intelligent Ways to Leverage Knowledge” posted by Forbes. For Fallmann, the advantage of AI is the ability to serve up the right information at the right time in rapidly changing business environments. He advises us that any knowledge management system worth its salt will have these technologies: AI, machine learning, natural language processing, natural language question answering, and semantic content processing. He emphasizes:

“Making the relevance of information personalized for each individual is what makes successful search results for employees. This is achieved by observing user behavior (assuming their consent, of course) and learning from it. Various factors that are analyzed include the role of the activity, the actions that were taken in the past in connection with certain information, specific search behavior and even the emotions that users associate with information — a topic closely related to customer experience or the experience economy.”

Looking ahead, Fallmann sees three significant developments in his field: X analytics, multimedia sources included in search results; weak supervision, a process that allows systems to learn independently and improve with use; and explainable AI (XAI), a way for systems to express their logic in a way humans can understand and manage. We’re told:

“Thanks to these new developments in intelligent systems like those used for enterprise search and knowledge management, workers no longer have to manage newly automated processes. Instead, they can combine their experience with artificial intelligence. This can generate a great opportunity to see ROI with reductions in the time it takes to complete tasks and eliminate repetitive tasks. This can help people play to more distinctively human strengths like social interactions, creativity and tact. And best of all, it can help workers spend their time on more impactful activities like strategy, innovation and problem-solving.”

No doubt, Mr. Fallmann would recommend Mindbreeze’s InSpire platform as the ideal solution. With headquarters in Chicago and in Linz, Austria, that company was founded in 2015 and is connected to a Microsoft reseller.

Cynthia Murrell, January 8, 2021

A Beefed Up Elasticsearch Presages an Interesting Future

December 31, 2020

The write up “Elasticsearch New Features: 2020 Year in Review” makes several “enterprise search” issues clear:

  • Key word retrieval is not enough
  • Additions to basic search signals that Elasticsearch is following the Entopia, FAST Search & Transfer, and other proprietary systems down the path of exponential complexity
  • Specialists in the time series and geospatial sector have cause to rejoice and be worried.

The article provides a summary of the feature landscape for Elasticsearch. It is worth pointing out that many commercial vendors rely on Elasticsearch or its cousin Lucene for information retrieval functions.

The article illustrates why. A single firm lacks the resources to build, enhance, and support what now is a retrieval and analysis platform. What’s interesting is how few vendors report their open source roots. Most prefer to concentrate on their proprietary add ons. These are the differentiators, but I must admit that most of these commercial vendors appear to me like an iguanas in a Caribbean iguana farm pen. I can no longer tell them apart. When I encounter a “new” enterprise or specialized search system positioned as a problem solver for the enterprise, I see iguanas. I suppose each iguana has a quite distinct personality, but I am not smart enough to perceive the difference.

Net net: Enterprise search is a utility. As an information service accretes features and functions, the basics become less important. At some point, the enterprise search systems, whether free or proprietary, bangs straight into the accounting department’s Zoom meeting.

The results are not pretty. Complexity, triage costs, customization costs, and special add ons set the stage for more Delphes, Fulcrums, SMARTs and STAIRS. Will vendors of enterprise search figure out how to get off this pathway to a Dante-like digital netherworld?

My prediction for 2021? Nah.

Stephen E Arnold, December 31, 2020

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